In the Islands of the West Indies, there are certain plants that produce seedpods known as cha-cha. These are used to make a small rattle also known as cha-cha. In Haiti the typical voodoo band consists of three drums, a bell, and a cha-cha. The cha-cha is used by the leader as a guide instrument or "metronome" to set the time in secular dancing as well as in religious music and singing. Thus the dance Cha Cha had its roots in the religious ritual dances of the West Indies.
Cha Cha is derived from two other dances, it is a derivative of the Mambo (Mambo is the name of a voodoo priestess) through its Latin music and it is also a stepchild of Swing (Lindy, as it is danced with a triple step and a break).
In 1953 the Cuban orchestra "America" started playing the time-honored "Danzon" with a new syncopated beat. This sounded like a slow Mambo, and Cuban dancers used a slight triple hip undulation on the slow count. Gradually this was changed to a triple step on the slow count and the Cha Cha was born. The Cha Cha was introduced to the United States in 1954, and by 1959 Americans were "gaga over Cha Cha", with dance studios reporting it to be their most popular dance. It is such an "on the beat" dance that you can't help inject your own feelings into it. Cha Cha is still the most popular of the Latin dances in the United States today.
It has also been suggested that the name Cha Cha is derived from the vocal imitation of the sound of the feet in the chasse, which included in many of the steps. This would account for it being called the "Cha Cha Cha" by some people whereas others call it the "Cha Cha". It is danced "Cha Cha" with the accent on the "1" beat. The tempo is fast, sassy and staccato.
Like most Latin dances, it is done with the feet remaining close to the floor (toe steps). The dancers hips are relaxed to allow free movement in the pelvic area as a result of the bending and straightening of the knees. The upper body shifts over the supporting foot as the steps are taken (foot moves, body follows). This hip action is called Latin or Cuban motion.
It is very important to understand the musical timing of Cha Cha to dance it correctly. If you don't, it will always have a "frantic feeling" and fast Cha Cha's will be very difficult to dance. Cha Cha music is usually played in 4/4 time generally at a speed of 28 to 31 mpm (measures per minute). Musically it is counted: 1, 2, 3, 4, & or an easy way to remember it is: 1,2,3, Cha, Cha (a Cha is 1/2 beat).